2024 Conference
All Conferences
TSVC | Tourism Students Virtual Conference

Chasing the rainbow: Exploring the challenging experiences of LGBT tourists

Chasing the rainbow: Exploring the challenging experiences of LGBT tourists
Author: Clara Rowe
1 Commentries
Abstract: This research paper provides an insight into the experiences of LGBT tourists including the issues regarding the lack of LGBT representation in the tourism industry, safety concerns and attitudes towards the LGBT community when travelling. In addition to a review of existing literature, primary research is used to provide insight into LGBT tourism experiences from the perspective of a lesbian traveller to supplement the lack of literature investigation lesbian tourists.

Keywords: LGBT, Tourism, Sexuality, Gender, Discrimination, Representation

Although the LGBT market is becoming widely acknowledged as a valuable economic market, the experiences of LGBT tourists are commonly overlooked in tourism academia (Poria, 2006). The economic value of the LGBT market is often referred to in research as the ‘pink dollar’ and ‘pinkwashing’ refers to the adaption of business practices to attract the LGBT market. However, in order to attract LGBT tourists, tourism providers must understand the experiences of LGBT tourists to adapt tourism offerings to attract LGBT tourists and improve the experiences of LGBT tourists by reducing discrimination based on gender or sexuality.

Most research regarding LGBT travel focuses on the economic benefit of attracting LGBT tourists, but little research is focused on improving LGBT tourist experiences. The academic research that does exist is often centred on gay men who only account for one segment of the LGBT market and there is a significant gap in knowledge concerning the travel preferences and experiences of lesbian, bisexual and transgender tourists (Hughes, 2006). Although factors affecting the tourist experience often differ for LGBT tourists who are faced with adapting to different cultures attitudes towards LGBT communities. Poria (2006) highlights this difference in experiences by explaining the different treatments that LGBT tourists receive from staff and other residents when staying as guests in hotels. However, the most prominent issue regarding LGBT tourism is the safety concerns for LGBT tourists travelling internationally in countries that criminalise homosexuality or transgender rights.

The primary research comprised of 1 semi-structured interview of a lesbian tourist, to supplement the lack of LGBT research regarding lesbian tourists. The interview revealed some of the experiences and challenges faced when travelling that are unique to LGBT tourists. The participant also revealed coping strategies used by LGBT tourists to minimise and manage some of the negative experiences when travelling. A key finding from the interview was the participant’s feelings of ‘not fitting in’ due to the lack of LGBT representation in certain destinations which are heavily concentrated with heterosexual couples. Hughes (2006) refers to spaces with LGBT representation as ‘gay spaces’ whereby there is a concentration of LGBT bars and clubs. These spaces are important in tourism destinations for LGBT tourists and therefore, Jong (2017) emphasises the importance of LGBT tourism and incorporating more LGBT events and activities into the industry to improve the experiences of LGBT tourists. The participant also revealed the discomfort of disclosing one’s sexuality when travelling, even in destinations where homosexuality is legal due to varying cultural attitudes towards LGBT individuals. The participant mentioned that she would lie about her relationship with her partner as a coping strategy to avoid or minimise any judgement from staff or residents when travelling. This shows the importance of staff and locals’ attitudes towards LGBT tourists as highlighted in previous literature (Poria, 2006).

LGBT tourists are often underrepresented and disadvantaged in the tourism industry both in academia and within destinations.
In summary, this paper highlights some of the negative experiences witnessed by LGBT tourists, and therefore, this paper acts as guidance to those working in the tourism industry, who need to address the issues associated with LGBT travel to make tourism a more inclusive industry that is both accessible and welcoming to diverse groups of tourists. Before the tourism industry can profit from the LGBT market, more research and work must be invested to make destinations more LGBT friendly, reduce discrimination, and improve the experiences of LGBT tourists.

Hughes, H.L. (2006) Lesbians as tourists: Poor relations of a poor relation. Tourism and Hospitality Research. 7(1):17-26. Available from https://journals-sagepubcom.proxy.library.lincoln.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1057/palgrave.thr.6050032 [Accessed 9/5/2020]

Jong, D.A. (2017) Rethinking activism: tourism, mobilities and emotion. Social & Cultural Geography, 18(6) 851–868. Available from https://www-tandfonlinecom.proxy.library.lincoln.ac.uk/doi/pdf/10.1080/14649365.2016.1239754?needAccess=true [Accessed 13/4/2020]

Poria, Y. (2006) Assessing Gay Men and Lesbian Women’s Hotel Experiences: An Exploratory Study of Sexual Orientation in the Travel Industry. Journal of Travel Research, 44(3) 327-334. Available from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= [Accessed 2/5/2020]
Commentary on: Chasing the rainbow: exploring the challenging experiences of LGBT tourists
Author: Jemma Miller
I have chosen to comment on this paper regarding the challenges faced by LGBT tourists because the LGBT community are becoming a growing market and valuable part of the tourism industry.

Rowe describes that the LGBT community is a fast-growing market in tourism and how academia often focuses on the how they can attract this market to gain more profit. However, little research could be found on tourism experiences of the LGBT community and how they can be improved. The semi-structured interview conducted with a lesbian traveller provided more of an insight into LGBT travellers that are often under-represented. The participant described how they felt ‘out of place’ whilst travelling sometimes and this could be due to the fact that it is still illegal to identify as LGBT in over 50 countries and in some countries LGBT travellers are met with discrimination (The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 2017). Much of the LGBT community is under-represented in the tourism industry, this is because academics tend to focus more on middle class, white gay men than any other group (Olson, 2018). Olson (2018) looks into the experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming tourists whilst travelling and found that trans and non-conforming travellers have often had negative experiences whilst travelling and felt they are in unsafe environments. This links to the research conducted by Rowe in which the participant felt uncomfortable sometimes whilst travelling and often felt the need to lie about their sexuality in some destinations. Coping mechanisms to avoid feeling uncomfortable and discrimination in some destinations have been adopted by many LGBT travellers. For example, some try to pass as a ‘binary’ gender and avoid certain places in order to avoid discrimination violence (Oakleaf and Richmond, 2017)

Looking more into the travel experiences of LGBT tourists could be a steppingstone to find out about individual experiences and how they could be improved and better represented. For example, studies from the early 2000’s found that gay men travel in order to express their sexuality, be in a safe space and meet other gay men. Whilst queer tourists tend to travel more to explore their sexual identity (Olson, 2018). More research like this and like Olson’s (2018) could lead to a better understanding of travel behaviours and then this, in turn, could lead to more acceptance in certain destinations and the abolishment of discrimination against the LGBT traveller community.


L. Oakleaf, L.P. Richmond Dreaming about access: The experiences of transgender individuals in public recreation
Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35 (2) (2017), pp. 109-119

Olson, E.D. and Reddy-Best, K., 2019. “Pre-topsurgery, the body scanning machine would most likely error:” Transgender and gender nonconforming travel and tourism experiences. Tourism Management, 70, pp.250-261.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Sexual orientation laws in the world – criminalization